“THE GORGON VISAGE OF NEGLECT”: Despondent fan of M. F. Tupper jumps to her death

Tupper_bw The Los Angeles Times has the tragic story of Mrs. Kathryn Booen, “a refined and educated woman” from a wealthy family in Kentucky, and former schoolteacher, who was widowed several years ago.  Unable to find work, and facing eviction for being three months behind on rent, late yesterday afternoon she jumped from the twelfth floor of a Los Angeles office building and died instantly, breaking practically every bone in her body.  Gone at age 57.

In her effects was found what apparently was Mrs. Booen’s favorite book, Tupper’s Proverbial Philosophy, by English writer Martin Farquhar Tupper — a  name, The Encyclopedia Britannica (1911) justly observes, “indissolubly connected with his long series of didactic moralisings in blank verse . . . which for about twenty-five years enjoyed an extraordinary popularity that has ever since been the cause of persistent satire.” Tupper’s observations may also have been the cause, at least in part, of Mrs. Booen’s suicide, for in her final days she apparently fixated on Tupper’s entry concerning “Neglect,” whose message is decidedly dark. Perhaps reflecting on the possibility that Mrs. Booen might be, at least in part, a victim of M. F. Tupper, the Times quotes from the beginning of “Neglect” (page 178 of the 1848 edition):

Generous and righteous is thy brief, slighted child of sensibility; For kindliness enkindleth love, but the waters of indifference quench it. The soul is athirst for sympathy, and hungereth to find affection. The tender scions of thy heart yearn for the sunshine of good feeling; And it is an evil thing and bitter when the cheerful face of charity, Going forth in the morning to woo the world with smiles Is met by the wayfaring men with coldness, suspicion and repulse. And turneth into hard, dead stone at the Gorgon visage of neglect.

But any such implication might be unfair to Tupper, who ends “Neglect” on an upbeat note — although due to his legendary verbosity, Mrs. Booen may not have made it through all the dark and dreary passages to see the light at the end of tunnel (pages 183-84):

Yet once more, griever at Neglect, hear me to thy comfort, or rebuke: For, after all thy just complaint, the world is full of love. O heart of childhood, tender, trusting, and affectionate, O youth, warm youth, full of generous attentions, O woman, self-forgetting woman, poetry of human life; And not less thou, O man, so often the disinterested brother, Many a smile of love, many a tear of pity, Many a word of comfort, many a deed of magnanimity. Many a stream of milk and honey pour ye freely on the earth.

* * *

For human benevolence is large, though many matters dwarf it, Prudence, ignorance, imposture, and the straitenings of circumstance and time. And if to the body, so to the mind, the mass of men are generous: Their estimate who know us best, is seldom seen to err:

* * *

Let it suffice thee to be worthy; faint not thou for praise; For that thou art, be grateful; go humbly even in thy confidence; And set thy foot on the neck of an enemy so harmless as Neglect.

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